Monday, December 9

What Christmas Means To Me? It's Complicated. [#12DC]

Bekah from Re-Solve and Aleshea from Glitz and Grits are teaming up for the #12DC (12 Days of Christmas) link up and I just had to join in.  Of course, the very first prompt is the one I had the most trouble with: What Christmas Means To Me.

I wrote a little bit last year about why Christmas is such a complicated holiday for me and why it's taken me years to feel peaceful about the holiday again.  In mid-December during my fourth year of college, I had just finished taking my last final exam for the semester when my cellphone rang.  It was my mom, telling me that my dad was very sick and that I needed to come home as soon as I could.  I can still remember almost everything about that day - receiving that news in the middle of the Academical Village, and my two best friends helping me pack for home and force-feeding me before I left.  It turned out that my dad had a brain tumor, and my parents hadn't told me because they didn't want my to get distracted from my schoolwork and responsibilities as a Resident Advisor.  When I got home, my father was in the hospital and receiving radiation treatments, but had lost his ability to speak.  About a week later, he came home for hospice care.  On Christmas morning, he passed away when my mother and I had stepped out of the room for a few moments.

Thankfully, I'd already been meeting with a psychologist at Student Health for therapy sessions prior to losing my dad.  His kidneys had shut down the previous year due to complications from diabetes and he was on dialysis.  I'd already been preparing to lose him; I'd already done the bulk of my grieving.  I was also surrounded by friends and family at home, including my camp family and former teachers, and I was loved on by my church, fellowship, and dorm friends when I got back to school - not a day late, as per my dad's wishes.

The next time Christmas rolled around again, it was the middle of my fifth year of college (my grad school year) and I'd just completed my student teaching.  As I wrote last year, "finding joy in the Christmas season felt like a battle.  It meant holding my mother and Mr. Q and my best friend close to me and keeping a distance from the trappings of Christmas that were too close to my father's memory."  I was very gung-ho about making Christmas something new for my family and friends that year - my mom and I decided that our tree and decorations would have a crazy lime green, orange, and pink color scheme so that it wouldn't remind us of any of the trees we decorated as a family of three.  Mr. Q's family was wonderful, completely adopting my mom and I into their Christmas traditions.  My mom still comes down here every Christmas Eve to spend the evening with Mr. Q's extended family.

When I started teaching, I realized that I'd always be hit with reminders that I'd suffered a tremendous loss on Christmas.  The first year that I returned from Thanksgiving break to see a shopping mall-worthy explosion of holiday decorations in the lobby of my school, I was having a panic attack by the time I got back to my classroom.  On the fifth anniversary of my dad's passing, I found myself in tears at the school band concert when they played "I'll Be Home for Christmas."  When these things happen, I have to tell my story all over again because thirteen year olds can't understand why their teacher is upset at Christmas time.  I have to heal all over again.

Now I'm in a healthy place where Christmas is once again one of my favorite holidays on the calendar.  I can listen to Christmas CDs, radio and Pandora stations without worrying that I'll be triggered - and knowing that I have the right to change the station if I am.  I can turn my home into a festive place full of red and silver decorations.  I can watch my dad's favorite Christmas movies without dwelling on his absence.  I'm even able to watch sappy Hallmark movies again.

Yes, Christmas is the day my world changed.  But it's also pulling out stars and burlap, spending extra time with friends, drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies.  It's having a potluck at work, having a gift swap with my department, and going to ugly sweater parties. It's laughing at Buddy the Elf and Clark Griswold and playing the same CDs I loved in high school.  It's cooking a ham or a turkey and pigs in a blanket and sausage balls and eating the gingerbread Mr. Q's cousins make every year.  It's traveling literally over the river and through the woods to my uncle's house.  It's finding gifts that will make my loved one's faces light up.  It's listening to carols in a candlelit church.  It's celebrating the idea that love came down on the world and said, "Trust in God; trust also in me."  

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  1. I'm glad you're finding enjoyment in Christmas again. Losing loved ones is never easy, but certainly not at this time of year. It also sounds like you are a believer which means you are so blessed because you do not grieve as those with no hope!

    1. Thanks Bekah! This was a somewhat difficult post to get started on but once I started the words were flowing. I am so thankful that I was able to call on my faith when I was grieving and that I had a strong community of believers around me to offer support at the time. Thank you for co-hosting the link up!

  2. Heather let's be besties. No seriously. My dad had many complications and a diseases he was born with that caused complications but his official death says Kidney Failure. I mean my dad didn't die on Christmas but I full understand. The holidays can be rough at times. You should read: It is a bit long but a friend sent it to me the other day and omg and helped me this holiday season.

    1. We can definitely be besties Aleshea! I am so sorry that you lost your dad. Thank you for sharing the article - I've never heard the term "anticipatory grief" but that's definitely what I went through.